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Posts from the ‘My Roots are Showing’ Category

Moving Forward

flagThis election season has been particularly painful. In fact, it’s been a real shit show. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but there you go.

Without the comic relief provided by social media and late night talk show hosts, I’m not sure I would have survived it. (Nick DeLillo, you’re a comic genius.)

Not that any of us truly made it through unscathed.

And now, as we wake up to the results…I’ll warrant a guess that I’m not the only one struggling to see how we’ll put this election behind us.

For the last 2 years, the political machine has perpetuated the idea that we are a nation divided. On every issue, it has pitted ‘us’ against ‘them’. I’m not talking about the candidates themselves, but the process. And now, after so successfully highlighting our differences – on every conceivable level – the election is over. The results are in.

And now, now we all have to get along again. For the politicians and late show hosts, this may be a game. But what happens next is real.

I don’t care who you voted for. I will never ask. (Although let’s be honest, from your social media posts, I can make a good guess.)

The question is how are we going to move forward together?

Whether you see this election as a set back or a victory, we are in this together. There is so much at sake. And we can’t afford to waste another second fighting one another.

So let’s start with this. A few things I think we can all agree on:

We all want our country to thrive.

We want our country to be the greatest nation in the world.

We want to raise our children in a world that is safe, and filled with opportunity.

We want the freedom to be true to ourselves and pursue our dreams.

We may not agree on how to get there, but can we at least agree on that?

Because in order to move forward, we need to rediscover that common ground. Our future depends on it.

Do you remember the words we recited every morning, as we stood facing the flag with our hand over our hearts? We weren’t just pledging allegiance to that flag, but to the republic for which it stands.

One nation under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

I saw a truly inspiring post by Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick this morning, that struck exactly the right chord.

“I don’t understand the choice America just made. But I will continue to choose America.”

God bless the America.

 

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Let It Be Easy

 

Let it be easy_1

Let it be easy. That’s my mantra for today. It’s not a plea to the universe but a reminder to myself. Step out of your own way, Melissa. Stop worrying and overthinking. It doesn’t have to be hard.

I haven’t always believed that. In fact, for most of my life all I’ve needed is a single, solitary negative thought to set me off on a downward spiral. One thought compounded into twenty, all reinforcing The Awful Truth.

The world’s against me.

I’m not good enough.

No one respects me.

I’ll never accomplish anything.

I can’t get anything right.

I’m a fraud.

I should make that a drop down menu so you can pick your own poison. Because we all have one or more of these “truths”, don’t we? That negative core belief we go back to time and time again. We just keep reinforcing it, over and over again.

But here’s the thing: Those Awful Truths aren’t actually true. And that inner voice? It can be your best friend – or at least an enthusiastic sidekick. You just have to train it to build you up rather than tear you down.

That voice inside you is a mimic. And what it’s been mimicking is the limiting beliefs you’ve internalized about yourself from the well-meaning people in your life that have been filling your head with you-can’t-you-won’t-you-shouldn’t-you’ll-never-you-have-to-do-it-this-way bladdy blah blah from practically the day you were born.

They meant well, always trying to protect you from harm. Save you from getting hurt. Prepare you. Teach you. Set you up with ‘realistic’ expectations. But what we absorb in the process is that our lives have to follow a certain pattern. It’s ok to have dreams, but you shouldn’t really expect to reach them. That’s why you need that nice, steady accounting degree to fall back on.

Well, $^%& that.

Do you know how to spot the people who don’t have limiting beliefs? They’re the ones out there doing what they love and absolutely killing it. They’re the ones who have determined what success means to them and are going after it.

I’m sure every one of them would tell you that, at points in their journey, people have told them that they’d never get where they wanted to go. That they’d never achieve their dreams. But you know what? They nevert believe that kind of trash talk. Because they believe in themselves.

While people are telling them that their dreams were impossible, their inner voice is saying, “You’ve got this!”

Your inner voice can do the same.

As for mine, I’ve been putting her through something of a positivity boot camp. She still tries to steer me back to those Awful (Un)Truths every so often, but I’ve discovered she’s fairly easy to distract. She’s rather partial to flowers, and absolutely loves the water. And as I’m taking in the beauty around me, it’s easy to be grateful for all the love and blessings I have in my life.

And if you’re anything like me, when you’re steeped in gratitude, reminded of my blessings, everything seems easy.

Let it.

 

 

“Let it be easy” is a nugget of insight I gleaned from Notes from the Universe, a daily dose of (often humorous) inspiration and enlightenment delivered direct to your inbox from the brilliant minds at TUT.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Pops.

My dad, Fred Stagnaro, and I at my cousin Elizabeth's wedding in 2008.

Me and my first hero and lifelong best friend at my cousin Elizabeth’s wedding in 2008.

Today is my dad’s 82nd birthday and I wish more than anything that he was here to celebrate the occasion.

It wouldn’t matter if we spent the day on the golf course, or had dinner at his favorite restaurant, The Silo. Maybe just a few friends over for cocktails. There would be cake, of course. Because in my dad’s eyes, no meal was complete without dessert. (Yes, even breakfast.)

I try not to count the months or years since he left. Instead, I remind myself that he’s with me every moment of every day.

Time has passed, of course. Four years and change. And I miss him no less today than I did in those first few heart wrenching moments when I realized he was gone. When I wondered how the clock could continue to register the passing of time when my world stood absolutely still.

That feeling of soul-crushing sorrow has mellowed to an ever-present dull ache. The sadness still finds its way to the top at times. Usually at the most unexpected – and often inopportune – moments. It’s all part of the healing process, I know. And I barely apologize for it anymore, mostly because I am so very grateful that these emotions are bubbling up rather than festering inside.

That knowledge is one of the ways I know that true healing has and is taken place. Another is that my memories are no longer tinged with so much loss and longing. I can take them out, one at a time, like favorite toys from a childhood toy box. I can cherish them and feel the warmth and joy of love and gratitude for the amazing relationship I had with my dad. Because I am truly, truly blessed to have had him as one of my best friends.

Funny, I never thought to call him that before. But he was. He was also my hero, my coach, my mentor, my conscience, and my consigliere. Both my biggest critic and my biggest fan. And the one person in the world I ever worried about letting down. The person I always wanted to prove myself to. Am still trying to prove myself to, if I’m completely honest.

That sounds silly, I know. But my dad was larger than life in so many ways. And he left very big shoes to fill.

I realized not long ago that it isn’t only grief I’ve been carting. There’s a pocket of guilt deep inside me.

I moved home, you know. So I was there with my parents for the three years my father battled cancer. I’ve always said I had no regrets about that. But I do. Because while I was there physically, living day to day with my parents through all of it…Well, I just wasn’t always there mentally. Far too often I retreated, either upstairs or to another world entirely. One where sickness hadn’t found its way inside our family.

Could I have researched more? Fought more? Advocated for his care more? Yes, I probably could have. But what I really wish I’d done is spent more time holding his hand. Because it was only in his last month with us that I realized how he himself craved the touch of others after he had spent so long withdrawing from it. That withdrawal was his way of making it easier on us, so we didn’t know how much pain he was really in.

As I sit here, fresh tears spill down my cheeks. There are more to shed, I know. Because cancer leaves scars on everyone, not just those who battle it first hand. Someday, I’ll be ready to let that pain see the light of day. But not today.

Because today is your day, Dad. And I’d give anything to split a piece of chocolate cake with you. Nothing fancy. One of those frozen Pepperidge Farm cakes will do. Mom probably has one in the freezer waiting.

There’d be a side of Breyers ice cream, too. Natural vanilla, of course. Or Neapolitan in a pinch.

After all, that’s the standard Stagnaro birthday celebration.

See, look at me. Sitting here with a smile on my face, thinking of all the birthdays we’ve celebrated like that over the years.

How very grateful I am for all of those memories. And for you, Dad. With me every day, in my heart and thoughts. And in my near-constant cravings for chocolate cake.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Pops.

Love you & miss you more than I could ever say.

xo

M

 

Girly Girl

A rare photo of me wearing pants.

A rare photo of me wearing pants.

“I was just talking about you the other day…”

Hearing those words swelled my needy little ego almost to bursting, especially since they were uttered by one of the most popular girls in my high school graduating class. (Who cares if that graduation was already a distant memory!)

I hung on her words, anticipating what would come next. Praise for my journalistic efforts. Gushing adoration of my writing talent…

“…how I went to school with someone who wore dresses every day.”

Cue the unceremonious exit of wind from my sails.

I looked down at the skirt I was wearing, and my thoughts wandered to the preponderance of similar attire in my current wardrobe.

Even my Halloween costumes had skirts!

Even my Halloween costumes had skirts!

Until that moment, I’d actually forgotten – or perhaps blocked out is more accurate – that my mother had dressed me in dresses every day for most of my formative years. Throughout Pumpkin Shell Nursery School, and the four blissful years I spent being nurtured at the Oxford Primary School.

Well, nearly every day.

I vividly recall the first day I wore pants to school. No, they weren’t plaid, thank you very much. It was St. Patrick’s Day. And, for a reason known only to her, my mother chose that day to send me to school wearing jeans. The sole concession to the holiday was the green crayon on the otherwise blue t-shirt I had on. Never mind the fact that probably half of the dresses in my closet – yes, many of them plaid – were green.

I’d blocked all of that out – particularly those plaid dresses. But the stigma, apparently, lives on.

That conversation, and the near anxiety attack that ensued, took place about 6 years ago. I was working as a small town newspaper reporter, having just moved back to my hometown after ramming around the country for a bit. I’d lived and worked in New York City, South Florida and Western Colorado. I’d traveled and adventured in Europe, North America and one memorable foray into Asia. (China, to be exact.)

Yet here I was…still living down my reputation as The Girl Who Wore Dresses.

Do you know how hard it is to ride a Big Wheel in a dress?

Do you know how hard it is to ride a Big Wheel in a dress?

My tomboy soul let out a warrior cry of despair that quickly devolved into a pity party. Because here I was perpetuating the girly girl image I’d tried hard to outgrow.

For the record, I am not a girlie girl. Not that there’s anything wrong with being one. But in order to qualify, you have to meet certain requirements. Like both owning makeup and actually knowing how to use it. Getting your nails done on a regular basis. (And, no, once a decade doesn’t count.) We won’t even talk about the hair care products…

I’m a little too rough around the edges to qualify.

I own mascara, but there’s a good chance it has expired since the last time I wore it. I’m so bad with manicures that I actually had to get three the week of the wedding so I was photo-ready. My normal ‘pedicure’ involves slapping another layer of polish over the remnants of my last effort. My hair care routine consists of brushing it when I get out of the shower and giving it a good shake. (I do, however, wash my face now – thanks to Rodan + Fields!)
But despite all of that if you were to look in my closet today, you’d find…dresses. Lots of them. Conservatively, I’d say they make up…90 percent of my wardrobe. The very thought is exhausting... (Stolen off Facebook)Why? Because they are easy. And comfortable.

And I just really hate to wear pants.

I was thinking about that conversation, and the ripple of my mother’s insistence on dressing me in dresses for so many years, this morning. When I found myself perpetuating the cycle.

Andry’s daughter is staying with us right now, you see.

And she just looks so darn cute in dresses…

 

Follow me on Twitter… @MelissaStagnaro

I was pretty darn cute, though, you have to admit...

I was pretty darn cute, though, you have to admit…

 

Home

Late summer/early fall is one of my favorite times of the year in Central New York.

Late summer/early fall is one of my favorite times of the year in Central New York.

We received the less-than-optimal news yesterday that Andry will need surgery on his knee. Apparently he had a fracture without realizing it, and now there’s a piece of his kneecap floating around wreaking havoc.

The patient.

The patient.

Or something like that, anyway. When it comes to all things medical, I’m even worse at it in Spanish than I am in English. Which is really saying something.

I hate seeing my love in pain, and with my own surgery still fresh in my mind, I’m nervous for him. Even though I have to believe he will be in good hands, and that once he’s all healed up he’ll no longer be in the debilitating pain he’s in right now. So, positive thoughts!

It’s not just the fact that Andry’s hurting that has me down. To put it frankly, the timing of it stinks. Because it means we’ll have to put off the long-awaited trip/delayed honeymoon we were planning for this fall. I know, in the scheme of things, the trip is inconsequential in comparison to surgery. It’s just that we were both really excited for what would have been Andry’s first trip to the US and an opportunity for him to meet more of the crazy cast of characters in my life – family and otherwise.

What I was looking forward to most, though, was the chance to show him where I grew up. To introduce him to the 152-acres that raised me as much as my parents did, and to the house where I grew up. Because I truly was bringing him home.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

We’ll get there eventually, I know. But I’m still disappointed. I’ve been getting a bit nostalgic for those familiar rolling hills of late, as another gorgeous Central New York summer passes by without me there to experience it first hand.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote while living in Western Colorado. It was an anniversary present for my parents. But in the writing of it, I realized where my heart truly was. And it wasn’t in that junction between the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains Desert. I moved back to Chenango County less than a year later.

I’m not in the same situation today. I absolutely love my life in the Dominican Republic. But that doesn’t mean a part of me doesn’t miss Home.

 


 

 

HOME

 

I miss

the scent of the fields in summer,

newly cut hay

and tiny wild strawberries

baking in the sun.

 

I miss

the wild iris

blooming

in the high grass of the pasture.

The forty-watt glow of lightning bugs

dancing at dusk.

 

I miss

fingers of rain

tapping me to sleep

on the panes of glass above my head,

the silence of night

broken

by an unexpected storm.

 

I miss

the spearmint taste

of water from the spring.

The roar of water

rushing in the creek.

 

I miss

spider webs

glistening

with heavy morning dew

on lilacs

long grown from bushes into trees.

 

I miss

the cool stillness of the woods

soft pine needles

cushioning my feet,

near the Indian well.

The snort of a buck

startled from the brush.

 

I miss

the scarred trunks of shagbark hickory

standing tall at the tree line,

flanked by walls of stone picked

from a hundred years of fresh-plowed fields.

 

I miss

sitting on the stone patio

with the long shadows of late afternoon,

cup of tea in hand.

I miss Home.

© 2007 Melissa Stagnaro

This is Home.

This is Home.

This is (Almost) 40: Counting down to the big 4-0

This is me, scheming. I hope you're ready for me, 40!

This is me, scheming. I hope you’re ready for me, 40!

In roughly two weeks, I’m going to be 40. I know, I know… I don’t look a day over 39, right? Believe me, I find it just as hard to believe as you. I mean, didn’t I turn 30 like 30 minutes ago? How did an entire decade fly by since I was last crying in my cups about having a milestone birthday!

The good news, I suppose, is that I don’t FEEL old. Not that 40 is old. Maybe at one point in my life, I thought otherwise. But believe me, I’ve revised my opinion on that matter significantly in recent years. I now consider 80 to be middle age. So by that standard, I have plenty of good years left.

Many of my good friends have gone before me, over this invisible wall into our 40’s. They’ve done it with style, grace and, in some cases, copious amounts of alcohol. I’m hoping to more sneak over the line while no one is looking.

My 30’s were, in all honesty, a mixed bag. Some of it really sucked. Like losing my dad. But there were some great times, too. Like taking my mom to Ireland for the first time.

I’m going out with a bang, though. I mean, I do get points for moving to the Caribbean, finding and marrying my soul mate AND writing 2.5 novels (even if they are still in first drafts) – all in my 39th year, right?

The problem isn’t so much leaving my 30’s behind. It’s figuring out how to top them in my 40’s. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling restless. Like there’s a big question mark over my head. I keep asking myself, “What’s next?”

The view from my 'desk chair', aka the hammock. Definitely not complaining...

The view from my ‘desk chair’, aka the hammock. Definitely not complaining…

I don’t know the answer to that, nor am I even sure why I’m asking the question in the first place. Not to brag or anything, but I have a pretty awesome life. I mean, I just married the man of my dreams. I live in one of the most beautiful, culturally intoxicating places on Earth. I spend my days writing, which I love. My ‘office’ is a patio roughly 20 yards away from the Atlantic Ocean and my ‘desk chair’ is a hammock. So, really, I can’t complain. I’m not complaining.

I just… I think I’m ready for some new challenges. What that entails, I’m not quite sure yet. I do know that it’s going to involve starting a new blog about my adventures here in the Dominican Republic, and launching my own business. I’m still working out the details on both of those undertakings, as well as 38 other goals I’m going to set for myself. Because, yes, as corny as it sounds, there will be 40.

So stay tuned. Because there will be no 39-and-holding for this girl.

Here’s to turning the big 4-0!

But first, you’ll have to excuse me. I only have a couple of more weeks of my 30’s to enjoy. I plan to make every second count.

Not to brag, but this is the view from my 'office'. See, really! I'm not complaining.

Not to brag, but this is the view from my ‘office’. See, really! I’m not complaining.

My Dominican Adventure continues…with a trip to the hospital

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“I’m going to Sosua tomorrow,” my friend Elena announced, explaining that a mutual friend was having a minor surgical procedure at Centro Medico. “Do you want to come along for the ride?”

My breath caught for a moment.

“Love to,” came my somewhat strangled reply.

To myself, I thought: Touché, Universe. Touché.

Just that morning, I had laid in bed agonizing over making the trip to the private medical clinic. On one hand, I knew I needed to get in to see a doctor. But on the other, I was scared as hell.

Let me rewind for just a minute. Two and a half years ago, a few short months after my father passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer, I had my own health scare. A scare that was made infinitely scarier by a primary care who was all too eager to jump to conclusions, not to mention unprofessional in her delivery of her doomsday diagnosis.

(As in she told me I had a mass that she presumed was ovarian cancer and pronounced that I would obviously need a hysterectomy. Oh, and while she was telling this to me me – an unmarried woman in her late thirties with no children sitting alone in a sterile exam room – she had the audacity to cry.

The only good thing she did was refer me to a highly respected specialist who assured me that I did NOT in fact have ovarian cancer. Nor did I need a hysterectomy.

What I did have was endometriosis. A nasty case of it, to be sure. And I did need major surgery. (Not to mention a new primary care.)

I have a pretty gruesome scar that, along with my lack of ab definition, has ruined my chances of ever becoming a swimsuit model.

But that scar is nothing compared to the emotional damage wrought by the whole experience. It left me skittish around the medical profession as a whole, not to mention in a constant state of angst over whether I can/will/want to have children someday.

So given all that, you can imagine my distress when I noticed something out of the ordinary on the left side of abdomen. It started out small. A hard lump that felt like I was smuggling around an overfilled water balloon. While it didn’t hurt per se, there was definitely discomfort. And I had a couple of awkward conversations because, well, it was starting to look like a had a bun in the oven.

Ok. So now you’re caught up. That morning, after a sleepless night, I was lying in bed agonizing over this issue, which, incidentally, I named Bob. (No offense to the Bobs I know. But I needed to give it a name, and that was the first thing that came to mind.)

I knew I couldn’t ignore Bob, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared to death to acknowledge his existence to the world and an as-yet unidentified health care professional in a clinic in a foreign country. I don’t know how long I would have put it off without the timely intervention of the Universe. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have waited too much longer, but… it was better this way. Somehow, knowing that I wasn’t the primary reason for the trip made it easier. After all, I was just going there to make an appointment. I wasn’t going to actually see anyone that day.

Or so I thought.

After seeing our friend into the hands of the surgeon who would be performing her procedure, Elena escorted me toward the front desk. My palms were starting to sweat even before a woman appeared in our path, asking if we needed help.

Elena, ever helpful, pointed at me.

At which point I promptly forgot every word of Spanish I’ve painstakingly learned over the past year.

In the ugliest broken Spanglish imaginable, I somehow communicated the fact that I wanted to make an appointment with a gynecologist.

She asked me if I had insurance. I said yes, pulling the card out of my wallet and placing it and my passport in her proffered hand.

“Looks like you’ll get to see someone right away,” Elena said with much more enthusiasm than I felt about this latest development.

As I settled myself into a seat in the waiting area, I was anxious but also relieved. Not to mention in absolute awe. It would have taken me weeks to get an appointment with a gynecologist in the U.S., and that was IF they were accepting new patients. A walk in? Never!

Not ten minutes later, I was in the doctor’s office. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw him. He was over 6 feet tall and his name was Fred (well, Freddy). Another sign, I though.

The consultation didn’t last long. We discussed my symptoms as well as my medical history. After a cursory exam, he wrote an order for a sonogram. Which I had across the hall about 15 minutes later, performed by a very pleasant female doctor.

The verdict? A giant cyst on one of my ovaries.

Lots of women have cysts, but that’s not really the important part here. Did you notice the use of the plural? Yep, that’s right! I have two ovaries! I realize that’s completely normal, but you’ll remember that I was under the impression one had been removed.

I sat there in stunned silence for a moment as my new best friend shared this surprising development. All the anxiety and angst that I’ve been carrying around for close to three years… evaporated.

Yes, I’ll need surgery to remove the cyst. In fact, I’m going in this morning for the procedure. Am I nervous? Sure. The fact that I’m having this done in another country doesn’t even factor in. I’d be nervous having this – or any procedure – anywhere. (Hospitals in general make me queasy.) But I feel pretty good going into this. The staff at Centro Medico are a class act, and I feel confident in their very professional hands.

I’ve held myself together pretty well through this whirlwind. It has, after all, been barely a week since my first trip to Sosua, and I’m having surgery today.

I’ll admit I did have a little crying jag yesterday, though. It was after I read an email from my Aunt Kathleen. She’s mobilized the troops, so to speak. The email read like a field report. Franciscan sisters in four countries are praying for me, my names been added to several prayer lists and a mass is being said for me today at St. Joseph’s Hospital Chapel in Tampa.

And this on top of the outpouring of support I’ve received from my friends and family both here in the Dominican Republic and back in the U.S.

I ask you: how can a girl not be overwhelmed when there is so much love and so many prayers and positive intentions flowing through the universe for her?

I am truly blessed to have such a network of love and support. I know when I go into surgery today, I won’t be going in alone.

Thank you, all of you. I truly am the luckiest girl in all the world.

And now I’m off to Sosua. I wish I could say it was nice knowing you, Bob, but…

Spring Cleaning…in July

Time to purge!

Time to purge!

I’ve spent the last week hoeing out.

No, that’s not a comment on my morals, or a sign that I’ve developed a penchant for gardening. I’ve just decided it’s time to unload the accumulated debris of my past lives.

Since I moved back to Central New York six years ago, most of my possessions have been residing in the far corner of the garage. I’ve been reluctant to go through them. After all, those boxes and totes hold far more than clothes, books, household items and random odds and ends. They’re chock-full of memories. Many of which I was keen to put behind me when I initially packed it all away.

They say time heals all wounds, and in this case they are right. Because a month or so ago, I came to the realization that I’m finally ready to let it all go.

A sure sign from the universe. First item removed from box #1 on July 15, 2014.

A sure sign from the universe. First item removed from box #1 on July 15, 2014.

So, last week I arranged for a dumpster. And as soon as it arrived, I began the long-overdue task of going through those containers.

If I had any doubts about the timing of my endeavor, I didn’t need to look further than the first box for an assurance from the universe. One of the first items I extracted from its musty depths was a tiny tin of mints. The tin was a favor from a friend’s wedding – which took place exactly 8 years ago to the day. (Happy Anniversary, Liz & Kent!)

I’ve found myself less nostalgic about the past than I thought I’d be. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve had no qualms in discarding certain items I’d been previously unwilling to part with.

I’d list them here, but frankly, at any given moment I could veer toward sentimentality. And the next thing you know, I’ll be making a mad dash for that dumpster…

It’s the most random things I find myself most reluctant to part with. Like a pair of purple velour bell bottoms. I’ve been hanging on to them since the summer I was an orientation leader in college. Before you start jumping to any conclusions about my wardrobe, let me explain: They were part of my costume for the Brady Bunch-themed play we put on for that year’s incoming freshman.

Ahhhhh…the memories!

Yes, the memories… they have come flooding back. But I find I’m not quite as attached to the contents of those boxes as I thought I’d be.

That’s not to say I haven’t brought a few armloads of belongings into the house. (Including those purple bell bottoms…) But a far greater percentage has gone either in the dumpster or to Common Cents, the thrift store that supports our local food pantry.

I’m not quite done yet, but already I’m feeling rather proud of myself. And, somehow…lighter. As if by getting rid of the past, I’m more ready to tackle the future.

Which is a good thing, since I’m about to embark on my next adventure. Yep, that’s right. I’m heading back to the Dominican Republic. This time for a more extended stay.

It will be my 100 Days in Paradise.

Don’t worry. You’ll get to read all about it.

My favorite place to hunt for sea glass. A special thanks to my friends Kathie and Mike Holt, for introducing me to the Dominican Republic and for being so generous with their vacation rental. Find out more at: https://www.facebook.com/CostambarOceanfrontRental

My favorite place to hunt for sea glass. A special thanks to my friends Kathie and Mike Holt, for introducing me to the Dominican Republic and for being so generous with their vacation rental. Find out more at: http://www.homeaway.com/174655 or http://www.facebook.com/CostambarOceanfrontRental.

Confessions of a (Recovering) Workaholic

Exhibit A: A typical daily to-do list from the height of my workaholism. (It does sound like a dirty word, doesn't it?)

What my daily to-do list looked like before I saw the error of my wicked, workaholic ways.

I’ve always been passionate about my work. My career path has had its twists and turns, but my level of commitment has always been the same – nothing less than 100 percent. It’s just my nature. Additional responsibility? Extra hours? Unexpected challenges? Sign me up! Because I don’t even know how to say ‘No.’

Not when it comes to work, anyway. In my personal life, it’s another story. Because when you’re really passionate about what you do, sometimes you do it to the exclusion of virtually everything else in life.

But then, work is life when you’re a workaholic.

And that’s what I am: a workaholic. And if you were nodding along to any or all of the above, you’re probably one, too.

Only sometimes it’s hard to recognize that fact when you are in the throes of an addiction. It can take a truly life-changing event to wake us up.

For me, that life-changer was the Great Restructuring. That’s my little pet name for the event that lead to my unceremonious and unexpected unemployment a few months ago.

Now, I suppose I’m a recovering workaholic. Although let’s face it, I’ve been actively looking for a way to fall off this particular wagon. But I’d like to think I’m making progress.

In the beginning – the first week or so following the aforementioned layoff – I was a hot mess. I still woke up in the middle of the night, mind whirring through a laundry list of projects and tasks. Only instead of the angst of having them looming over my head, I felt relief that I no longer needed to worry whether they got done.

Which would have been refreshing if, say, I wasn’t lying awake in the middle of the night.

During the day, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So many hours of my day had been spent consumed by work. Now they stretched before me like a barren wasteland.

And when I took stock of what was left after I subtracted out work, well, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright depressing. Because who has time for things like family, friends and hobbies when you’re a raging workaholic!

Thankfully there were a few friends I hadn’t yet managed to alienate – despite my track record of canceled plans and unreturned phone calls – and some family members that were still talking to me. I both clung to them like a lifeline AND tried to make up for lost time.

Which is to say, I started smothering the life out of them.

I also realized that I’d been woefully negligent when it came to the community boards on which I was serving. Now that my schedule was a bit more, err, flexible, I could actually attend all of the meetings I’d previously been missing.

It was also about this time that I realized that, while I was very committed on a philosophical level to the organizations I was involved with, I should have been committed for saying yes to all of them. Even if I was physical able to attend all of the board meetings, committee meetings, fundraisers, etc – and I couldn’t because many of them overlapped – I didn’t have enough time or energy to do them justice.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying. Because you know, that’s what workaholics do.

I wasn’t use to having down time. So between the smothering of loved ones and the manic volunteering, I endeavored to fill every moment with…something. Anything.

Well, anything short of daytime television. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

Thankfully, we were on the verge of what would be one of the longest, coldest and snowiest winters in recent Central New York history.

(Yes, I just said that. Which is a sign of my fragile – and deeply disturbed – state of mind at that point in time.)

As a result, I spent a lot of time shoveling. And when there wasn’t enough fresh snow to necessitate shoveling, I trekked through the woods on my snowshoes.

Both of these activities would terminate with me collapsed in a sweaty, exhausted heap, content in the fact that with Mother Nature as my personal trainer, I didn’t need to renew the gym membership I’d long since let lapse. After all, I needed to be more careful about my discretionary spending. (In retrospect, the gym membership would likely have been cheaper than the massage therapy and chiropractic appointments I needed to fix me after all that shoveling.)

I also spent copious amounts of time bingeing on sci fi/fantasy novels and Justified. (I have a serious addiction to both.)

This was all in addition to the time I spent searching for and researching job opportunities online; reconnecting with past colleagues; fielding questions about my change in employment status, etc. All while studiously avoiding the dreaded resume update.

I think that even in those early days, while I was struggling to make sense of it all, I knew that I needed to make a change. My workaholic tendencies were sucking my soul, even in my unemployment. And I knew I couldn’t let myself ever be that all consumed by a company or a job ever again.

I knew my thinking had shifted when, maybe a month after the Great Restructuring, I had dinner with a former colleague.

During our meal, she was constantly checking her phone, frantically (and almost unconsciously) fielding text messages, emails and even a quick call between bites of her (woefully neglected) salad.

As I savored every uninterrupted bite of my delicious entrée – a lovely eggplant parmesan, if I recall correctly – two things hit me.

The first was that I had been like that too, not all that long ago.

The second? That despite the horrible shock to my system, despite the uncertainty of the future, a part of me was both grateful and a little relieved that I’d turned that page. (Even if perhaps technically it had been turned for me.) Here the universe was presenting me with an opportunity to reconsider my workaholic ways.

And maybe, just maybe, I can still be incredibly passionate about my work but not have that passion be at the expense of everything else.

Now, my to-do list looks a little different...

Now, my to-do list looks a little different…

It’s not the easiest of transitions to make. Especially since in order to have a semblance of a work-life balance, you need to actually have a life. Which is what I’m working on right now. The whole getting a life bit.

It might be the most important project I’ve taken on to date. It involves quite a bit of travel and a lot of writing.

And I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I’m giving it my all.

Daddy’s Little Girl: What I’ve learned since losing my dad

My dad, Fred Stagnaro, and I at my cousin Elizabeth's wedding in 2008.

My dad and I at my cousin Elizabeth’s wedding in 2008.

This weekend, a post reminded me that today was a somber anniversary for three siblings I call friends. You see, two years ago, they lost their dad.

Frederick L. Stagnaro (a.k.a. Fred, Roy, Uncle Fred, Gramps, the Pops, Freddy, Fred-o…)

My dad, Frederick L. Stagnaro (a.k.a. Fred, Roy, Uncle Fred, Gramps, Dad, the Pops, Freddy, Fred-o…)

Truth was, I didn’t need to be reminded. I’ll never forget the death of their dad, because he died just two weeks after my father. In my heart, their grief is inexorably linked with mine.

This may seem odd, particularly given the fact that we’ve been more acquaintances than friends for most of our lives. I didn’t really know their dad; they didn’t really know mine. But now we share this bond; a bond formed out of the pain of losing one of the most important people in our lives. For we had each stood by, helpless, as the men who had been our heroes our whole lives passed from our world into the next.

My dad fought a courageous three-year battle with cancer. They were three incredibly difficult years. In the end, I knew it was his time. He was in so much pain, and I didn’t want to see him suffer any longer.

Losing him tore my heart out. And I knew I would never, ever be the same. Don’t get me wrong, I put one foot in front of the other. Life hasn’t stopped, but it’s as if my personal history is now broken into two distinct parts: before my dad died and after.

If you’ve lost a parent, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. If you haven’t, then cherish EVERY minute. Yes, even the ones where they drive you absolutely crazy. Especially those. Because in a strange twist of fate, those are the things you’ll miss the most.

I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t lost a parent (or parent figure), can truly understand the emptiness that comes from knowing one of the people who shaped you into who you are as a human being – not simply on a genetic level, but on every level – is no longer there. No longer there…

…to talk to.

…to lean on.

…to love you unconditionally.

…to confide in.

…to teach you what it means to be a good person.

…to give you that advice you don’t want to hear.

…to roll their eyes when you wear something a little “fashion-forward”.

…to intimidate your boyfriends.

…to frustrate you more than any other living being.

…to be your hero.

…to hold your hand.

But you get through it. You have to. Because life goes on, even though you can’t understand why the world didn’t stop when they died. Because your world did.

In the days, weeks, months and now years since I lost my dad, I have been so incredibly lucky to have the love and support of so many amazing people. Collectively, these friends and family members have been my rock. They never let me forget that my dad is still with me and always will be. I carry him in my heart, just as I carry him in my DNA.

I have also been incredibly lucky to have one friend in particular: Tina.

A couple of days after my father’s death, Tina sent me a note. In it, she started out by saying that she didn’t want me to feel obligated to respond. But as soon as I read the rest, nothing in the world could have stopped me from telling her how her words had touched me.

You see, she shared with me her own experience with losing a parent. And in doing so, she validated everything I was going through. Everything I was feeling. She showed me that I wasn’t alone in my grief, because others had gone through the same thing. And, perhaps most importantly, that I would be ok. It would always be hard, but I would be ok.

Her words, which were both incredibly kind and impossibly wise, still give me goose bumps. Because yes, I have trundled them out a time or twenty over the last two years.

I can’t think of a better way to pay that forward, then to share some of what I’ve learned/discovered about myself these past two years – mostly through the kindness of amazing people like Tina.

(Disclaimer: Please remember my degree is in Economics, not Psychology. I’m sharing my personal experience, not giving unsolicited medical advice..)

Here goes…

1. First and foremost: it is OK to miss my dad like crazy. 

Getting ready for a father-daughter golf outing, circa 2010. (Note the coordinating golf shirts!)

Getting ready for a father-daughter golf outing, circa 2010.                                     (Note the coordinating golf shirts!)

I lucked out in the father department. My dad was an amazing guy (yes, that’s been independently verified) and I have always felt incredibly privileged to be his daughter. We had a very special relationship and I have a lifetime of cherished memories to show for it – birthday fishing trips, flying, golfing, hiking through the woods and far, far too many hours spent watching Clint Eastwood movies and so much more…

I know how lucky I am, because not everyone is so fortunate to have that kind of bond with their fatherAnd I fully believe it gives me license to miss him forever.

2. I’m going to miss him forever.

Silly me, I thought the first year would be the hardest. I was ready for every holiday to hit me like a ton of bricks. But I think the second year was worse because, damn it, I THOUGHT it was going to be so much easier and it wasn’t. So I guess I better wrap my head around the fact that I will always miss him.

But I do have something that will get me through even the roughest of days: the knowledge that he will always be with me. I can feel him with me in spirit, and he will always be in my heart. (Heck, some days, I can almost hear him whispering in my ear.)

3.  I’m stronger than I think.

stronger than you think

The plaque, as it now hangs in Ryan Frederick’s room.

Two days after my dad died, I missed my best friend’s baby shower. It was in Connecticut, and I couldn’t make it for obvious
reasons. After the party, Liz posted a picture of a plaque someone gave her for the baby’s room. It said something along the lines of: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you think and smarter than you know, but the most important thing is that even if when we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”

It felt like a message from my dad when I needed it most. Because it came as I was getting ready to write his obituary. Which I thought was the hardest thing imaginable. Until, that is, I decided I wanted to speak at his funeral.

I had notes with me, as I stood before those gathered for the funeral mass, but they didn’t do me much good. Frankly, I couldn’t see them through my tears. But somehow, I got through it. I’d like to think that I did him justice and, that in doing so, I proved myself to be my father’s daughter.

I closed with the words from that plaque.

4. In order to be there for anyone else, you need to be there for yourself first.

When everyone went home after the funeral, it was just my mom (whom I’ll henceforth refer to as Mumsy) and I. Not to say we didn’t have a huge support network, but at the end of the day it was the two of us. (Well, and Lulu the ninja kitty.) And I felt responsible for her. (No, not the cat.)

But while I was “taking care” of Mumsy, I wasn’t taking care of me. Add in a boatload of work stress, and it was a rather dark

Mumsy and me.

Mumsy and me.

time for me. I was angry, bitter and filled with guilt for all the time I was spending at work when I felt I should have been “taking care” of my mom. I wasn’t really grieving. Not in the healing sense of the word. I was keeping it all in and it was just getting worse.

The good news is, I don’t feel that way anymore. Know why? Because I opened up with my mom about everything I was feeling.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it involved a couple of what I like to call “Come to Jesus” meetings. There’s usually a fair bit of screaming, crying…you name it. But at the end of the day, it’s helped us both move forward. Because we are in this together…in an admittedly co-dependent kind of way.

5. Pick the right people to talk to.

After my dad died, I felt like I couldn’t talk about it. Not because there weren’t people there to listen, I just felt that I’d already overburdened them with my tales of misery and despair. As time passed, I was even more reluctant, because I figured they’d give me the polite brush off. (You know, the “it will get easier” speech.)

Unfortunately, it was all bubbling up inside me. And it started leaking out at the most inopportune times. Like on a first date, when all I did from appetizer to dessert was talk about my dad. Or in the middle of a business meeting. (Ok, maybe it was more than “a” meeting…)

And I couldn’t talk about it with my mom, or my siblings for that matter. Because I couldn’t handle their grief on top of my own.

I was lucky enough to have friends that understood. Friends that had also experienced profound loss, whether of a parent or loved one. Like Tina, they validated what I was going through and helped me find peace with what I was going through.

That might not work for everyone, I know. But thankfully there are wonderful professionals out there who can help. The important thing is to find someone you can open up with and who can help you heal.

6. Let the tears fall.

I’ve always been a crier. So it will come as no shock to anyone who knows me that I cried for about 2 weeks straight after my dad died. And I’ve cried many times since. I get some of my best crying done in the car, but am no opposed to other locales as well.

Now, some people may interpret this as a sign of weakness. But not me. I firmly believe that tears are cleansing. A good cry helps you get it all out. And then you can move on.

7. Laughter is healing.

I still have a hard time talking about my dad sometimes. And I have an incredibly difficult time talking about the knock-out-drag-out battle he waged for three years against the cancer that ultimately took his life. Perhaps because he wouldn’t let us talk about it while it was happening.

But I have made in-roads. Because there are things we can laugh about, even from those darkest of days.

Humor makes it all a little bit easier to bear. I say that, while smiling through my tears.

I miss my dad so very much, and I know I always will. But as I sit here reflecting on the good times and bad, thinking of all the things he taught me, I can’t help but feel blessed to have had the honor and privilege of having Fred Stagnaro as my friend, my role-model, my hero and most of all, my dad.

I love you, pops.

In loving memory of Frederick L. Stagnaro. June 20, 1934 - January 26, 2012

In loving memory of Frederick L. Stagnaro.                                          June 20, 1934 – January 26, 2012